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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Leadership of Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz will aid the Islanders through the restart

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks with the

Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello speaks with the media at Northwell Health Ice Center on May 6, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Upon being left in the forest without a GPS or a picnic lunch, an experienced guide often comes in handy.

Hence the Florida Panthers ought to be well-positioned for the months ahead, in which 24 NHL teams must navigate a winding, unprecedented path if/when the league returns to action.

Their coach, Joel Quenneville, is the winningest active one in the NHL, with 925 regular-season victories, and he won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks in the 2010s.

And their general manager, Dale Tallon, built the first of those Chicago Cup winners and has an NHL resume that dates to playing with the expansion Canucks in 1970-71.

In other words, look out, Qualifying Round Opponent in “Hub” City to Be Named Later!

Oh, wait. That would be the Islanders. Never mind.

Their coach, Barry Trotz, happens to be the second-winningest behind Quenneville, with 845 regular-season victories, and he won a Cup of his own with the Capitals. He won the Jack Adams Award just last June.

And GM Lou Lamoriello won three Cups with the Devils while establishing a decades-old reputation for inscrutable, impenetrable, imperturbable, instinctual hockey guru-dom.

So the Islanders would appear to be in good hands, leadership-wise, to deal with a slippery situation as the league tries to resume its season in mid-summer and crown a Cup champion in early autumn.

There are many smart GM/coach combinations in the NHL – including with the suddenly playoff-bound Rangers – but c’mon: How many are a better fit for a mess like this?

Disruptions always are an opportunity for those who know how to exploit market inefficiencies, and presumably Lamoriello last slept on March 12 while devising a personnel strategy he would be happy not to discuss publicly.

And once the players get back onto the ice, Trotz is the sort of old-school-but-flexible soul who can innovate on the fly and handle the people-skills part.

Throw in the fact the Islanders are an experienced team that has been almost entirely intact since the departure of John Tavares in the summer of 2018 and, let’s just say I rate their Cup chances as better than one in 24.

Just for fun, I took a stab on a conference call Wednesday at getting Lamoriello to admit veteran leadership from management and coaches could be an edge in this situation. He sort of answered.

“You’re right in saying that this is certainly unprecedented, but it’s similar to what we’re all going through – unpredictable,” he said. “It’s going to be a fluid motion. There are going to be adjustments and details that have to be overcome.

“All we can do is just be straightforward, keep everybody abreast, try to keep everybody’s minds in the right direction . . . We’re as prepared at this point as we could be in handling all the situations that we’re aware of. We certainly know more are going to come up.”

Lamoriello emphasized the importance of ongoing safety protocols, and he acknowledged the near-, intermediate- and long-term future all are TBD.

The good news for the Islanders is every player should be healthy and available, and that their supervisors can be trusted to cross every “t,” dot every “i” and work every angle.

One thing is certain in Lamoriello’s eyes: If it all works out and the Islanders lift the Cup in an empty arena in Las Vegas come fall, it counts.

Asked if this year’s champion will be seen as a valid one, he said, “In my opinion, unequivocally, the answer is ‘yes.’

“If you think about what the teams and players will have to go through, whether it’s the play-in round, whether it’s the three or four rounds following that, you’re going to determine a champion . . . I feel that who gets that trophy deserves it.”

Lead the way!

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